The continued high level of staff turnover at the Digital Transformation Agency is “very alarming” according to the Opposition, with the agency experiencing near-100 per cent turnover in the last 18 months.
Figures released last week following a Freedom of Information request revealed that 251 staff members ceased employment at the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) from July 2018 and February 2020. The DTA’s total employment level as of February 2020 was 256.
The agency said this turnover is due to its “agile” way of working, which often involves short-term contractors and secondees from other departments.
Late last year, DTA boss Randall Brugeaud told a Senate estimates hearing it was one of his “key priorities” to provide stability at the agency after it was revealed that from December 2016 to June 2018 the agency had experienced a close to 100 per cent turnover, with 340 people ceasing employment and the agency’s then total workforce being 342 people.
Of the people who ceased employment with the DTA, 242 were contractors and 98 were public sector ongoing or non-ongoing employees. The DTA did not provide a breakdown of contractors versus ongoing employees with the latest figures.
Part of the reasoning behind the high level of turnover is the way the DTA is structured, with teams working for short-periods with a significant number of short-term contractors and seconded staff from other departments.
“The DTA recruits skills and expertise as required to deliver on key priorities. Our workforce is a mix of APS, contractors and secondees that deliver on the government’s digital transformation agenda,” a DTA spokesperson told InnovationAus.
“DTA’s agile ways of working encourage teams to work across projects with clear, time-bound deliverables. This allows the DTA to bring in skills from across the public and private sector for short periods and deliver outcomes in a quick manner.
“The DTA is proud of the work we have done involving multidisciplinary teams from across the APS. This allows us to increase the capability of the public sector and also to deliver outcomes in a truly collaborative way.”
Revelations that the staff turnover at the DTA hit 100 percent again in the last 18 months are troubling, shadow government services minister Bill Shorten said.
“That the DTA’s staff turnover in the last 18 months is almost the same as the total current workforce is very alarming. This agency has huge potential. But under Stuart Robert’s reign it has achieved little beyond an expensive yet largely ineffective coronavirus tracing app,” Mr Shorten told InnovationAus.
“Mr Robert needs to explain why everyone is racing to the exits and what he plans to do about it. We retain grave concerns about high levels of outsourcing and the loss of expertise that results from this hollowing out of the public service.”
At the Senate estimates hearing in October last year, Mr Brugeaud conceded the agency had a “relatively high turnover” in its first three years, and he was aiming to stem this flow of staff leaving.
“One of my priorities was to immediately provide stability and leadership. Stability and leadership has been the priority to this point and I’ve been successful in maintaining that,” Mr Brugeaud told the Senators.
“I think the culture within the DTA as I’ve observed it is quite positive, and in relation to more recent turnover since I’ve commenced in the CEO role, we have had one of our senior executives depart the organisation, which is quite extraordinary.”
The DTA has received more public attention than usual this year following its role in the development of the COVIDSafe contact tracing app. The agency is also continuing work on its digital identity scheme, a revamp of the myGov platform and a review of the whole-of-government tech architecture, among others.